International Women’s Day marks one year since the COVID-19 crisis began. This year, more than ever, women should be celebrated for their resiliency above everything else. Over the past year, the pandemic drastically cut women from the workforce in the United States and beyond. However, despite all of this, there is a chance for a new opportunity. Women around the world have an opportunity now to apply their resiliency to acquire new skills and re-enter the workforce in industries where they have been historically under-represented.
One such example is the STEM industry (science, technology, engineering and math), a typically male-dominated industry in every country. In the U.S., women only make up 28% of the science and engineering workforce. These jobs often offer more flexibility, higher pay, and do not always require a 4-year degree.
In particular, alternative STEM preparation programs use new education models to rapidly diversify representation in STEM industries. While these programs can often be completed in less than five months and can offer more flexible schedules, hefty up-front course costs and uncertain placement rates prevent many women from benefiting from these programs. An innovative model in the U.S., LaunchCode, is changing this dynamic and could inform similar programs in Israel and other countries that would give women a more direct path to employment in STEM.
Three aspects of LaunchCode make its programming unique: 1) participants pay nothing for the course 2) the course can be completed in around 5 months on a part-time basis, and 3) participants have access to paid, on-the-job training through their apprenticeship program.
The apprenticeship program enables students to practice not only the coding skills they have learned through the program in a real-world setting with a local employer, but also enables students to learn workplace skills and culture. Additionally, this gives employers the opportunity to add fresh talent to their team, while equipping the apprentice with the exact skills needed in the role.
Carolyn Peters, a 2018 LaunchCode graduate and current software programmer at Mastercard, said the application and problem-solving aspect of the program helped her find success. “A lot of computer science developers don’t code in college. They learn networking and how a computer works, but not the job skills. LaunchCode took a different approach and said this is what employers are looking for, how do we teach people how to do these things?”
Public-private partnerships with employers can subsidize the cost of the educational program through apprenticeships and can remove potential barriers to the labor market for credentialed applicants without sufficient social networks. These partnerships can also remove financial barriers and reduce implicit and explicit bias in the hiring process.
The Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis evaluated the LaunchCode model and found promising results. SPI found that while women comprise just 19% of computer science college graduates in the U.S., they make up 39% of LaunchCode graduates. These graduates are then placed at local and international companies like Mastercard, Boeing, WorldWide Technology, and Edward Jones for apprenticeships that very often lead to full time positions. When considering placement effectiveness, a recent internal survey found that 95% of LaunchCode graduates were working in tech after three years and over 73% have received a promotion. Additionally, the average starting salary for LaunchCode graduates is $59,000, whereas the average pay for a 4-year computer science degree holder is $65,540, according to the 2017 National Association of College and Employers salary survey. Moreover, LaunchCode participants do not acquire student debt often associated with 4-year degree programs.
To further support women in STEM, LaunchCode also launched a program explicitly for anyone who identifies as female or non-binary to not only receive training, but also to receive support and mentorship from people in the industry–CoderGirl. When Peters first started her current job at Mastercard, it was comforting to see she was not the only woman, “It was nice to walk down the aisle and see that women were also developers,” she said.
Peters also adds that the mentorship model was vital for someone like her who had previously worked hourly positions and now faced an entirely foreign workplace culture. “My first day, I had a buddy walk me around and introduce me to people. She made clear the expectations and the unspoken rules of things like, ‘this is the usual time we go to lunch, this is where you can go for coffee,’” said Peters. “My advice to companies is give someone a chance and go with a mentorship model. You never know, they might be one of your greatest assets.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic has caused large disruptions in workforce sectors commonly dominated by women, programs, such as LaunchCode, can offer both an efficient and equitable way to develop new skills in high-quality jobs.
Another LaunchCode graduate, Angela Senne, reflected on this while searching for jobs during the pandemic while still training with LaunchCode. She said, “I’ve been on the job market several times and it was not at all a quick process [before]. This was the fastest I have ever been hired…At a time when people are losing or trying to find a job, I got a job the same day I interviewed.”
Though the pandemic has disproportionately impacted working women more than men, women continue to demonstrate resiliency. Countries around the world have an opportunity—and moral obligation—to support women as they re-enter the workforce and seek new skills, as well as to support a more diverse STEM industry. Increasing women in STEM can help close the pay gap and provide more diversity in problem-solving that can ultimately result in innovations that we all benefit from.